Retraining employees is an investment, not just a cost

employee-reskilling

Amazon’s announcement in July that it will spend $700 million to retrain one-third of its U.S. workforce by 2025 should be a wake-up call to those who are doing little or nothing to prepare for the impact of automation and smart machines on how enterprises operate and how people do their jobs.

And when I say “those who are doing little or nothing,” I mean both enterprises and employees. It’s time to face reality and take some serious action.

Presumably that’s what Amazon is doing with its retraining program, which the digital giant says will “help Amazonians from all backgrounds access training to move into highly skilled technical and non-technical roles across the company’s corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores, and transportation network, or pursue career paths outside of Amazon.”

The last part above is pretty cool: Not only will Amazon offer free (and voluntary) training to employees, these employees will have no obligation to remain with the company. While that’s a risk for Amazon, it’s one CEO Jeff Bezos seems to feel is worth taking if the company is to meet the accelerating demands of digital transformation.

I would argue that it’s a far bigger risk for comapnies to stand pat when competitors are hiring or training staff to 1) work with AI and other smart technologies and to 2) develop higher-value skills as machines eliminate the more mundane and repetitive aspects of their jobs.

Failure to keep up arguably is an even bigger risk for individuals who want to thrive in the fast-evolving digital economy. It’s critical for digital-era workers to be constantly proactive about their skills and career opportunities. Yes, it’s great if a companies such as Amazon roll out training programs and invest in skills development for employees, but you can’t count on that happening.

Skills like agility and adaptability are becoming more valuable to organizations than expertise. It’s not that expertise will ever go out of style, it’s that expertise in a particular area can become less useful as technologies age. Sadly, this means your fax machine repair skills no longer will get you to the interview round.

Hopefully more organizations will follow Amazon’s lead and invest in their employees (yes CEOs, some of them might leave anyway — get over it!). The ones that don’t will be those organizations led by myopic leaders who see their employees not as assets, but as costs.

And for those people who work at an enterprise that doesn’t offer reskilling for the digital economy, do not wait for a savior! You are the savior! Figure out what jobs and career paths interest you, create a map that gets you from point A to point B, and then get rolling. Eager organizations need you.

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